Monday, August 04, 2008

An attorney assesses Obama

Bozeman attorney Kristin Taylor was a student in one Barack Obama's law classes at the University of Chicago. Asked her opinion of this piece in the New York Times, she wrote:
I found the piece interesting, though a bit frustrating as well. I think Dennis Hutchinson was right on in observing that Barack was testing his ideas in the classroom – and I think that fact accounts for the genuinely respectful and thoughtful way he treated his students. It seemed as if he always very earnestly took all of our viewpoints into account as he performed an analysis – and that he truly valued our contributions. He never was dismissive (as some other profs tended to be) and was always interested in exploring the ‘devil’s advocate’ perspective.

I would agree with the students who recollect having their ‘liberal instincts’ offended at times; from what I remember, the only glimpse we had into Barack’s personal politics was the types of classes he taught. He played the devil’s advocate role well himself and truly seemed to believe that a good idea was a good idea, regardless of the political orientation of the individual who offered it. He made sure to analyze an issue from every imaginable perspective and, as best he could, to put himself (or, more accurately, to try to assist his students to put themselves) into another’s shoes. That is why I find it ridiculous to hear someone like Richard Epstein (who, incidentally, had his own libertarian ‘groupies’ and who, to the best of my knowledge, did not spend much time out of his own ‘comfort zone’) allege that Barack never ‘fully engaged’. Barack is incredibly bright and I firmly believe that his ability to see/understand/articulate all sides of an argument is evidence that, on an intellectual level at least, he was fully engaged.

I also agree with you about simplicity vs complication. I’d guess the best way to run an operation of this scope is to keep it simple and if, at times, it is disappointing to hear Barack sounding more simplistic than we’d like, I’d argue that it is reassuring to know that we’ll have a president capable of much deeper analysis. In fact, I’ve said before that I was quite impressed by his ability to make concepts accessible to students – I see it as a great strength that he is capable of sophisticated analysis yet also able to distill information to an easily understandable – and ‘usable’ – form.

Hat tip to Marvin Granger.

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